The 50 Best TV Theme Songs of All Time

Music Features best songs
Share Tweet Submit Pin

10. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
(Sonny Curtis, “Love Is All Around”)
Thanks to the on-screen punctuation it got via star Mary Tyler Moore’s infamous blue beret toss, Curtis’ hopelessly optimistic (and oh, so ‘70s) Love is All Around is most memorable for its final notes. But, it still offers hope and a sense of survival to many. Think of it as a precursor to Friends’ theme I’ll Be There For You: before you find the support group you need to get through your bad day, week, month or year, you need to be brave enough to set out on your own and accept that, despite life’s hurdles, “you’re gonna make it after all.” —Whitney Friedlander

9. Gilligan’s Island
(Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”)
It’s a sea shanty with foreshadowing (“A three-hour tour”), suspense (“The Minnow would be lost”), a key change when they make it through the storm and a convenient way to introduce the characters—though the original reduced The Professor and Mary Ann to “the rest.”
Josh Jackson

8. Hawaii Five-O
(Morton Stevens)
Of all the songs on this list, this is the one that you’ll have stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Unless, of course, you can whistle… The theme was later recorded by the Ventures, whose version climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard pop charts. Don Ho and Sammy Davis Jr. also recorded versions (with lyrics!), and Bill Murray famously butchered it as part of his Nick the Lounge Singer bit on Saturday Night Live. —Josh Jackson

7. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(Jeff Richmond, the Gregory Brothers)
“They alive, dammit!” It’s not just the catchiest TV theme in years. The genius of this song is baked into its concept—a remix that goes viral in the first minute of the pilot episode, right along with the strong females it’s about. It’s not just a TV theme; it’s a cultural theme, too, highlighting our modern obsession with modern obsessions. It’s also got one the best lines: “White people hold the record for creepy crimes.” —Matthew Oshinsky

6. The Jeffersons
(Ja’net Du Boise, “Movin’ On Up”)
How’s this for the inter-connectedness of Hollywood? Du Boise played Willona Woods on Good Times. Janet Jackson was also on Good Times. Justin Timberlake caused a little wardrobe malfunction with Janet Jackson during Super Bowl XXXVIII. Fellow Mousketeer alum Keri Russell starred in Mission:Impossible III. The original Mission:Impossible TV show aired on CBS alongside All in the Family. The Jeffersons was an All in the Family spin-off. Okay, so that was pretty random, but you can’t argue against the greatness of “Movin’ On Up.” —Josh Jackson

5. All in the Family
(Lee Adams, Charles Strouse, “Those Were the Days”)
Few intros are as simple or as memorable as Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton at the spinnet piano live in front of a studio audience every week. This was the first song I (and many others) learned on the piano, as it used only the black keys. But only now have I learned that the closing lyrics are “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.” Or that a LaSalle was a GM automobile that went out of production in 1940. —Josh Jackson

4. The Simpsons
(Danny Elfman)
Danny Elfman  wrote the score for just about every great movie in the 1990s (Beetlejuice, Batman, Men in Black), but he’s probably best known for the minute and 34 seconds it takes Marge Simpson to check out at the grocery store and drive home. The Simpsons has been on so long—now in its 28th season—Elfman’s orchestral theme with the brief saxophone solo has probably been heard by more television watchers than any in history. And it’s been covered by Yo La Tengo, Tito Puente, Sigur Ros and NRBQ. —Matthew Oshinsky

3. Sanford & Son
(Quincy Jones)
Forget Thriller, “We Are the World” or his work with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Sammie Davis Jr. If all Quincy Jones had given us was the funky intro to one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s—the song is actually called “The Streetbeater”—it might have been enough. —Josh Jackson

2. M*A*S*H
(Johnny Mandel, “Suicide Is Painless”)
M*A*S*H was unique in that it was a tragedy with a laugh track. Unlike its war-sitcom predecessor Hogan’s Heroes, M*A*S*H was a black comedy pointing to the absurdity and horror of war. The humor was often of the gallows variety, and the theme song signaled bravery in the face of sadness. The devastating words were written by Robert Altman’s 14-year-old son Mike but wisely left out of the TV version. It didn’t need anything more than a haunting melody. —Josh Jackson

1. Cheers
(Gary Portnoy, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”)
Portnoy’s prior claim to fame was penning the theme song for Punky Brewster, “Every Time You Turn Around” (oh, you remember it). The greatest TV theme song of all time is sappy as hell, but sometimes we do want to go where everybody knows our name. It does what a great theme song should do—set the scene. Despite the cutting and sarcastic quips flying around the bar, Cheers was at its core as sweet as Portnoy’s introduction. —Josh Jackson